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Posts Tagged ‘Hermeneutics’


Released in 2012, the report by the Reformed Presbyterian Church, North America (RPCNA) has been the gold standard among Reformed and Presbyterian churches for statements on sexual orientation. I’ve been meaning to read The Gospel & Sexual Orientation, edited by Michael Lefebvre for some time.

Controversies have arisen since then that touch on the issues covered, but aren’t addressed directly by this report. I wish I had read it when the Revoice controversy hit. It would have been helpful to show how the RPCNA report actually supported much of what I was trying to tell some of my brothers who hold this in report in high esteem.

Now that the PCA ad interim committee report has come out, I decided to read The Gospel & Sexual Orientation (GSO) for comparison. I won’t be comparing them here, but as I continue my series on the PCA report, I will be able to more meaningfully refer back to the GSO.

The Forward is quite helpful. It reminds us that much of the New Testament was written in response to controversies. We dread controversies. They are an opportunity to refine our thinking and re-think pastoral strategies and responses. Yes, some will fall victim to the spirit of compromise. But not all who want to talk these things through are compromisers, but can be people of good conscience who want to think more clearly and pastorally on these issues.

This was my goal as more people in the church were being honest about their struggles with same sex attraction. I wanted additional guidance on how to effectively care for them and minister to them. I think I have a firm grasp on the Scriptural teaching (some have claimed I don’t) but wanted additional wisdom.

“Contemporary questions about sexual orientation are not simple, and they must not be treated simplistically. There are sophisticated medical, scientific, theological, and exegetical arguments at issue in the present controversy.”

According to this report, that is not a bad thing at all. It is, in fact, a necessary thing. Similarly, I don’t see the PCA report as a sign of compromise but to help us see how to apply the Scripture and Standards more thoroughly to the issue at hand in our day. I would be concerned if my fellow pastors in the PCA were jettisoning Scripture and the Standards but they are not. Yes, I get defensive with people claim they are. Thus, I do not see us taking the path of the denominations that cast off the Scriptures and ended up conforming to the world.

The first chapter is Introduction and Terminology. The focus of the chapter seems to be the word “homosexuality”. In that regard it is quite helpful. There are other terms in this discussion that I wish were laid out in similar fashion. In the more recent controversy people have been using various definitions without actually defining them and so there was a fair amount of talking past one another by assuming definitions. These additional terms would include sin and temptation.

The term, homosexuality, originated in 1869 by the social reformer Karl-Maria Kertbeny. It was in a pamphlet written in opposition to new anti-sodomy laws being proposed. Slowly use of the new term spread, and the older terminology focused on behavior fell aside. Terms for sexual orientation are relatively new, and were used to justify ending laws against same sex practice. The discussion shifted from behavior to psychology, and now that it is not considered a psychological disorder there is the search for genetic origins. In a materialistic world, there must be some material cause for such desires (is the argument).

“The term homosexual (along with its counterpart, heterosexual) was coined to convey the new idea that some people are same-sex oriented by nature and ought not be prejudiced against simply because it is a minority orientation.”

This is why I try not to use the term. It comes with baggage and is a late-comer to the discussion. This is met with a mixed response. But in light of this big shift in terminology and resulting shift in thinking the GSO proposes:

“Either the church’s traditional understanding of genders and sexual identity needs to be corrected to accommodate the new perspectives on homosexuality, or the church’s traditional positions on these matters need to be re-articulated in ways that show their relevance to the modern claims.”

We need to do exegetical work to answer the claims of those who want the Church to change its views. We also need to do pastoral work to lovingly care for those in our midst who love Jesus but still experience same sex desires. These things are not opposed.

GSO moves on to Biology, Gender, and the Biblical Doctrine of Man. The new terminology shifts thinking about same sex attraction away from morality to sociology, psychology and biology. The quest has been on for a few decades to find the material cause of homosexuality. They note that a degree of skepticism about research can be maintained for two reasons: the faulty presupposition of physiological causes in a materialistic worldview, and the reality of personal and political bias that can affect studies and conclusions. There is a great deal of pressure to validate same-sex desires. We discover similar issues in global warming, the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine and a host of other issues. There is money at stake, peer pressure (not simply peer review) as well as personal agendas at play.

“… even scientific consensus is not formed in a vacuum, and the immense political pressure in this field introduces an unavoidable degree of wariness. Many of those involved in the quest, as the proponents themselves admit, have a personal interest in proving its existence.”

This is not intended to be a denial of science, nor the scientific method. Nor is it intended to rule out the possibility of an innate cause. There are physiological causes for a number of problems, including alcoholism in some cases. Finding a cause shifts our pastoral response, but not our theology. They believe that finding a cause would result in greater compassion in the church’s ministry to many of those who struggle.

“If science shows us that sexual disorders are more deeply enmeshed in human biology than the church has traditionally understood, this ought to stir our concern for even greater understanding and compassion for those who experience these desires; however, it does not change the fact that such inclinations are contrary to human nature as God designed it- and as he is redeeming it.”

Adam’s sin has broken us all. We are disordered and corrupt. The Fall has affected us spiritually, morally and physically. While the Scriptures do not speak of a sexual orientation, they do speak of “dishonorable passions” which include but are not limited to same-sex desires. We all bear brokenness, though in differing degrees and in different ways. Our lives are profoundly affected by Adam’s sin, our own sin and the sins that others commit against us. Why a particular person experiences same sex desires may be quite complex.

Romans 1 is not about an individual’s decline but a culture’s decline as it turns away from God. We are watching it unfold in America these days. There is a profound descent into spiritual and moral folly, degrading passions and cultural decline.

They also note that Jonathan Edwards wrote of a person’s ‘natural constitution’ being the root of many sins. People have different weaknesses, or sins to which they are more prone. He therefore calls for allowances to be made. Not excusing it, but recognizing the weakness. This is part of our total, or radical, depravity.

“The bondage and afflictions of the curse really do run that deep; but it is against the backdrop of such struggles that the profound power and immeasurable greatness of God’s grace shines forth with splendor and stirs our hearts with a yearning for sanctification and hope in heaven.”

They rightfully remind us that “EVERY person will face profound struggles sexually.” When we are honest about our own sexual struggles we should have more compassion on those who struggle differently. Note, compassion not compromise.

Personality Traits and the Multiplication of Gender Categories brings us back to 19th century Germany. This time it is Karl Heinrich Ulrichs who proposed new terminology. He spoke of himself as “a female soul confined by a male body”. He saw himself exhibiting some typically female traits. He thought his feminine qualities indicated that he was differently oriented. His views developed into the common saying that “sex is between the legs and gender is between the ear.” Gender became separated from physiology, which is odd in a materialistic worldview. But sin (as a power) does this kind of thing.

Our world tends to think of masculine and feminine as generalizations. When someone doesn’t fit the stereotype, they are considered to be the other gender. Instead of a strong woman simply being a strong woman, she’s considered manly and therefore masculine. Christians have fallen into this kind of cultural thinking. We really confuse people who don’t fit our strict categories. Rather than simply being an outlier, we treat them as if they are actually the other gender.

Into this they interact with the profound differences between Esau and Isaac. Esau was a “man’s man” who loved to hunt and explore. Jacob preferred life among the tents. While more “sensitive” Jacob was not a homosexual as some might supposed based on his more feminine (supposedly) qualities. While these two men had very different traits, they were both men.

This brings us to Hermeneutical Issues of the Homosexuality Debate. In this section they deal with the main arguments to adjust our theology and refute them. These arguments are:

  1. Since same-sex orientation is a recent discovery, the biblical texts  addressing same-sex activity don’t apply to orientation. Yet, the Sermon on the Mount expresses Jesus’ teaching that activity flows out of the heart and reflects a Godward or selfward orientation. Paul and other NT authors speak of passions, not simply actions. They weren’t ignorant of internal dispositions but refused to allow them as an excuse to transgress the law of God. Robert Gagnon also points to similar concepts in Plato and Aristotle (inner orientation and by nature).
  2. Many interpretations are based on a view of Scripture as an evolving religious understanding. This is the trajectory hermeneutic made popular by Rob Bell. It asks the question, “what would Paul think today” as if Paul was actually writing under the inspiration of the Spirit but rather the spirit of his age. But they use this concept to negate what the Scriptures say. This is obviously to be rejected as well.
  3. Some use Barth’s “christocentric” interpretation in a way Barth likely never imagined. Christ is separated from the written word, and the word must be interpreted “through the lens of Jesus’ redemptive life and ministry.” As a result it re-interprets Scripture to minimize differences between people- social reconciliation. Jesus essentially, in this view, redeems homosexuality rather than redeeming saints from the sin (in both a want of conformity and transgression) of homosexuality.

“We would urge ministers and laymen to be alert for these kinds of hermeneutical errors when encountering those who quote Scripture to contradict the historic stance of the church on same-sex issues.”

Addressing the hermeneutical issues, they shift to Exegesis and Confessional Statements. Here I think they inadvertently make a huge error.

“While the exegesis of biblical texts is our only authority, confessional statements offer us the fruits of the church’s exegesis in ages past.”

I get that they are distinguishing between the role of the Scriptures from that of the Confession. But it is not our exegesis of the Scripture that is authoritative but the Scripture itself. Our exegesis can be either accurate or faulty. We are disagreeing with the exegesis of our opponents, in part, based upon their faulty presuppositions. I’m quite surprised this wasn’t cleaned up, or I am really missing something.

The rest of the chapter is quite good. They are not trying to be comprehensive in the chapter, or it would be far too long for a report. They do take us to the creation of man in  Genesis 1 & 2 to see that there are two genders. They are “two distinct categories of humanity (not poles on a continuum).” Much of what we might call gender differences are more likely differences of personality having little to nothing to do with gender. Along with gender we see the institution of marriage, including sexual union, to be heterosexual. This is social orientation determined by anatomical gender. They speak of it in terms of “head and helper” which is true as far as it goes, but remember that God is our helper too. This passage is not simply descriptive but also prescriptive regarding marriage.

They spend a fair amount of time on Sodom and Gomorrah. In the Genesis account focuses on their intention to rape the “men” who sought refuge in Lot’s home. Many claim they were judged for other sins, and discount the role of homosexuality. They root this in Ezekiel. Yes, Ezekiel addresses other sins that characterized Sodom and Gomorrah. He focused on the sins of which Judah was also guilty, and for which judgment came upon them. Similar to this is the Levite’s Concubine in Judges 19. This is handled more briefly, stressing the fact that Israel had so quickly become like the Canaanites.

Another good amount of space is devoted to Leviticus 18 and 20. They draw attention to the fact that both parties were to be put to death. It was against God’s law to play either role in a same-sex encounter. Admitting that “abomination” can refer to ceremonial uncleanness, they provide 7 reasons that these are moral injunctions and not simply “temple prostitution.” For instance, the general word for “male” is used, not the word for a “male prostitute”. The contrast is not simply about worship but with normal sexual relations with a person of the opposite sex. We also see Deuteronomy 23:17-18 addressing cultic prostitution.

GSO moves on to 1 Corinthians 6 and Paul’s vice list. They spend time explaining malakoi which can refer to the “effeminate” but was also used for the penetrated, often younger, partner. Used in conjunction with arsenokoitai we see the sexual nature of these terms and that Paul is considering both roles are not conforming to the law of God. Lev. 20 also makes the same point, and Paul is likely just drawing upon it.

In 1 Timothy 1 Paul uses arsenokoitais in his discussion of the ten commandments. He sees same-sex sex as a violation of the moral law. They spend far more time on Jude 5-7 and the “different/strange flesh”. Some get around homosexuality in saying the men of Sodom sought angel flesh, but they didn’t know the men were actually angels. The surrounding towns were also guilty of this sin, and there is no record of them seeking to assault angels looking like men. Jude wasn’t concerned about his audience seeking to have sex with angels, but lapsing back into the same-sex activity common in the Greek and Roman world.

Then GSO addresses Romans 1 again. There is much there that hearkens back to creation. This is about perversion of the created order. It is not simply about actions, but we see a focus on passions or desires which are corrupt. It is then back to Genesis and Ham’s sin against Noah. Ham is the father of the Canaanites, and their sexual perversion. We aren’t exactly sure how, but that much is clear.

They shift to the Standards, particularly WLC 139 which addresses not just homosexuality but lust, fantasies, adultery, pre-maritial sex, pornography and more. Their mention of lusts or desires reflect the fact that we are to put them to death, not just behaviors.

GSO concludes with Pastoral Implications. They want us to remember “homosexuality is not just an issue to try to understand, it is a struggle experienced by real people.” Some of those real people are in our pews and need our help. There are two things that GSO does that are reasons why I wish I’d read it prior to the Revoice controversy.

  1. Don’t treat homosexuality as a special sin.  They say “they are not all that different from other temptations common to human experience. … Christians must avoid the stereotype of homosexuality as a sin greater than all others… Like many other temptations, same-sex desires often arise without warning and feel hopelessly overpowering. But all human brokenness is within reach of the Gospel’s power.”  Later, “Christians must avoid the stereotype of homosexuality as worse than all other sins and beyond the reach of God’s grace.”
  2. There are no quick solutions. “Deep-seated desires are never resolved easily. They are certainly not resolved by mere will-power or ‘steps of treatment’. We dare not promise quick solutions; but neither should we shy away from the full hope of the Gospel for total redemption by the working of God’s Spirit.” They have good balance in this matter. “The Spirit of Christ may work patiently or he may work quickly.” In fact, one of the primary reasons for “failures” is unrealistic expectations. I suspect that is the reason for most people I know of that left the faith in order to live according to their sinful desires.

In the great Revoice debates it would have been great to say “I’m saying nothing different than what is expressed in the GSO.” I’m not trying to minimize sin, under-sell the Gospel, and I’m not self-deceived. I’m simply recognizing what the Westminster Standards say about sanctification. Repentance doesn’t mean we are free from temptation from within, or even that we never act on our temptations. It is an endeavor for new obedience, but our reach often exceeds our grasp in the area of sanctification. We want to be more fully sanctified.

The authors when us to remember that sanctification is about more than same-sex attraction. It is but one aspect of discipleship, not the whole enchilada. They also briefly mention that the guidelines they layout do not replace evangelism, but are generally to be understand in the context of discipleship. Generally you want to develop trust because discussing such a personal struggle is often quite difficult. Most people in the church are not proud of their struggle. They often feel legitimate shame. I’m not going to go through all their guidelines (it is short, and I want you to read this). One great need is generally healthy same-sex relationships. Non-sexual relationships. It is not about doing “manly” or “girly” things, but about building edifying relationships. It becomes about spending time together, sharing life together.

As far as GSO goes, it is excellent. Being a human document it couldn’t anticipate all of the controversies which would arise since then. It is a product of its time, and its controversy. It provides good guidance in other controversies that touch on the same issues. It provides plenty of pastoral wisdom. It should become a helpful addition to a pastor’s and church library.

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The previous decade was not a great one for Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Much of it seemed to be taken up with controversies over a few professors and their  theology of Scripture and hermeneutics beginning in 2006. Some may have considered it a tempest in a teapot but this is one of the elite Reformed seminaries that provides pastors for the PCA, OPC, ARP and far more.

By 2014 Peter Enns and Douglas Green were gone. Men like Iain Duguid and Gregory Beale would step in to help restore confidence in the seminary.

ISeeing Christ in All of Scripture: Hermeneutics at Westminster Theological Seminaryn 2016 they produced a collection of essays by 4 of their professors in an additional attempt to restore confidence and help those of us on the outside to better understand some of the theological tensions. Retired professor Richard Gaffin, long-term professor Vern Poythress and the new additions Duguid and Beale were tabbed to write articles that were gathered into a little book called Seeing Christ in All of Scripture: Hermeneutics at Westminster Theological Seminary.

For such a small book, it sure has a ton of endorsements. There are blurbs by Packer, Robert Yarbrough, Wayne Grudem, Philip Ryken, David Wells, Kevin Vanhoozer, Cornelis Venema, Benyamin Intan, John Frame, Mark Jones, Liam Goligher, Richard Pratt, J.V. Fesko, Harry Reeder, and Julius Kim. There are more as well. They represent various nooks and crannies of the Reformed community here and abroad.

It begins with an introduction by WTS President Peter Lillback which discusses the history of hermeneutics at the seminary. He wants this book to show us a consistency of biblical interpretation at Westminster today. He quotes liberally from the 4 articles in question.

He admits that the previous few years had seen a struggle between a Christ-centric hermeneutic and a Christotelic hermeneutic. Is Christ the center and goal of the Old Testament or simply the goal of the Old Testament? This sounds kind of heady for some folks. Lillback doesn’t rely on his professors, but also draws on the Westminster Confession of Faith to explain why we hold to a Christ-centric method of interpreting the Bible.

Poythress, who teaches a hermeneutics course, begins the process. He brings in Cornelius Van Til to talk about presuppositions, our basic commitments, and how they shape our method of interpretation, not just our interpretation. We have to examine those basic commitments and compare them to Scripture’s commitments.

“There is no way to form sound hermeneutical principles in a vacuum, apart from religious commitments.” Vern Poythress

Poythress delves into the dual authorship of Scripture and its implications. He briefly looks at the progress of revelation and the nature of Scripture as the Word of God not simply containing the words of God. He then lays out a few principles that help us have biblical commitments for our interpretational method. That includes how the Spirit who gave us the Scripture brings Christ to us. Scripture speaks of Christ, and brings Christ to us because of the Spirit’s work.

Then OT professor Iain Duguid writes about … Old Testament Hermeneutics. Keeping things succinct, he goes right to the heart of the matter. The center of the Old Testament is Jesus. We aren’t looking for Jesus as if he’s Waldo. In a variety of ways Jesus is the thrust of each passage. Each passage (not individual verses but stories and sections)point us to our need for Jesus, the work of Jesus and the character of Jesus. The OT text had a message for the original audience, and it has such a message for us. While the human authors understood much of what they wrote, they didn’t understand all they wrote. We see Daniel and Zechariah struggling to understand their visions. They had true, real knowledge but not complete or comprehensive knowledge.

New Testament Hermeneutics is handled by Gregory Beale. He begins with the goal of exegesis- understanding the text and therefore God’s message through the human author using “genre, textual criticism, grammar, flow of ideas, historical background, word meaning, figures of speech, and relationship with other biblical passages through direct quotation or allusion.” The rest of the chapter is breaking that down. He makes a number of points about the way the NT uses the OT.

The next discipline is systematic theology and is handled by Richard Gaffin. Because systematic theology is founded on Scripture, you have to rightly interpret the Scripture in question. The hermeneutic used for both systematic and biblical theology is the same. It should not have an idiosyncratic method of interpretation. He addresses the Bible as God’s Word, the unity of the Bible, the meaning of sola scriptura, redemptive-historical unity, and the relationship between systematic and biblical theology.

The book also has a number of appendices. The first is J. Gresham Machen’s address at the founding of the seminary. He discusses the need for a seminary to replace Princeton which had recently fallen prey to liberalism. Westminster was to be a confessional seminary rooted in the Scripture. They would not avoid history but also not be bound by history.

The second appendix is a series of Affirmations and Denials Regarding Recent Issues by the board of trustees. They are affirming and clarifying the implication of the seminaries continued subscription to the Westminster Standards. In some ways this is helpful in briefly laying out commitments and what they reject.

The third and final appendix is an article by Richard Gaffin in response to some comments by D. Clair Davis on the retirement of Douglas Green. Davis worried that this indicated that Westminster was shifting its commitments. Gaffin argues that Westminster stands in the tradition of Vos. He then interacts with the Christotelic approach which the seminary has rejected. This part of the book is probably the clearest explanation of the differences.

I gave a few copies of this book away when it came out, hoping it would help them understand how to see Christ in all of Scripture. I finally got around to reading it myself. I’m not sure it helped the other people. There is some level of knowledge that is presupposed. This is not an introductory volume. I understand what is going on, but they probably didn’t. I didn’t realize the background of the book when I initially bought it.

So, if you are interested in the struggles of Westminster this is a helpful little volume to understand where they are on these issues now. If you are looking for a volume that teaches a Christ-centered hermeneutic, this probably isn’t it. Invest in Goldsworthy. It will stretch you but it is helpful.

 

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Well, I’ve got a sinus headache and want to rip my head off. I can’t read anymore today. So I’ll wrap up my summary of Women in the Church edited by Kostenberger and Schreiner.

The 5th chapter is Progressive and Historic: The Hermeneutics of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 by Robert Yarbrough. Yarbrough is a NT prof at TEDS. He examines the trends in methods of interpreting this passage.

“In Paul’s understanding men and women, while equal in value and importance before the Lord, were not regarded as unisex components with swappable functions in home and church.”

Yarbrough begins by responding to William Webb’s criticism of the first edition of this chapter. He makes 3 points. First, Webb “mistakes the intent and outcome of my chapter.” His intention was not to develop a hermeneutic as Webb seems to allege. He did describe features of an approach that has been around for a long time, and criticize some aspects of newer hermeneutical approaches coming into vogue which lie behind the newer interpretations. Second, he admits that something like Webb’s “redemptive-movement hermeneutic” as been around for a long time. The particular form that Webb uses is much newer. A hermeneutic used to seemingly contradict the biblical teaching fails to be a “historic” method. Third, a “static” method, while sounding old-fashioned, may be great for a faith that prizes being steadfast and immovable. Doctrinal innovation is not something that excited Paul, Peter and John in a positive way. They were quite critical of novelties.

1 Timothy 2 is not an exception in Scripture, but we see parallels in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Peter 3. He fails to include 1 Corinthians 11, however. We can’t just dismiss this passage as the result of patriarchy. Yarbrough rightly notes that the issue is not simply about exegesis but hermeneutics, the method used to interpret the text you have exegeted. You can’t rely on just grammar and vocabulary, but how you interpret that grammar and vocabulary to apply it matters. This is the bulk of the chapter.

He focuses on arguments tied to our culture’s progressive views of women, the meaning of Galatians 3:28 and the connection made between slavery and the role of women.

In terms of the first, our culture “stresses individual rights rather than social or institutionally mandated responsibilities in both civil and moral matters.” The stress on self-fulfillment is not limited to this particular question. The church has also taken up this ethos and makes similar arguments in discussing the role of women in the church. In larger society, the growth of women’s rights and empowerment has had some unexpected consequences. The tie between men and women has weakened and our children have suffered in a variety of ways. Freedom at the expense of the most vulnerable in our society is not a biblical value. Many studies indicate how poor off are kids are due to divorce, single parent households, missing fathers etc.

“From a Christian perspective both sexes have sinned grievously against each other in rampant divorce, the sexual infidelity that often attends it, the killing (abortion) and other victimization of children, and the ripple effects of drastic lifestyle changes.”

The conclusions that have been put forth on this text and topic since the late 1960’s are significantly different from those of the previous 1900 years. Yarbrough analyzes academic dissertations and papers so you don’t have to. These new views are a result of new hermeneutical principles. Stendahl tries to preserve biblical authority while simultaneously saying that when speaking of humans, its teaching isn’t authoritative for future times. Often the Bible is now called “culturally bound” when speaking about human relationships. In the NT, equality before God and relative inequality in society were held in tension. Today, this is unthinkable and modern man seemingly can’t make distinctions. Religion is part of what is culturally imbedded or relative, and therefore changes as culture changes.

He moves to slavery and the question of interpretation since some try to connect the two with regard to how Scripture handles the subjects. Scripture did not call for the end of slavery as practiced in the surrounding cultures (very different from race-based slavery and the man-stealing that were foundational to the African slave trade). Lacking political power in a culture in which nearly half of the people were slaves, it taught people how to live as Christians within slavery. We now know that slavery is wrong, the argument goes. In a similar fashion, they see Christianity as teaching people to live within the patriarchy of the surrounding culture but today would should espouse the egalitarianism of modern culture. Just as we (rightly) reject the Southern Reformed (and other) interpretations that tried to justify the African slave trade, we should reject interpretations that justify the submission of women. (And I’d say it depends on what you mean by that.)

Yarbrough notes that God did not institute slavery, but we see that God did institute marriage. In regulating slavery in Israel, there was a 6-year limit. Marriage was generally until death do us part. In the NT, Paul permits slaves who can gain their freedom (buying it) to do so. No such permission is given regarding marriage or church leadership.

Marriage is called to reflect the created order. This includes the sacrificial love a husband should express toward his wife (not every woman) and the submission a wife expresses to her husband (not every man). Adam and Eve were king and queen. She was not his slave or property. Redemption does not obliterate our creational and therefore gender distinctions.

“The Lord reigns; we gain nothing by mistrusting his counsel and taking matters into our own hands. But men must be careful not to hide their sinfulness behind the presumed privilege that pet verses seem to afford.”

Yarbrough notes that there are a wide range of options between patriarchy and feminism. We should be talking to one another peaceably to work these things out. This also calls for some self-examination by communities. “Is how we are practicing our beliefs providing legitimate ammunition for our detractors?” For instance, are we tolerating domestic violence in our families or do we discipline members for abusing their spouse? How we apply our doctrine matters. It either makes it attractive or downright ugly. How we apply our doctrine should be marked primarily by love, seeking the best for those under authority.

After a good night’s sleep, I feel better but want to wrap this up so we move on to What Should a Woman Do in the Church?: One Woman’s Personal Reflections by Dorothy Kelley Patterson. She is the professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern Theological Seminary.

Let’s analyze that for a moment. This is ONE woman’s reflections. We shouldn’t think this is the only way to apply the text. It isn’t “gospel”. She is a seminary professor, though she teaches (mostly) women (she notes she doesn’t throw out men as if she has authority over them). She has an academic background. This is an academic as well as personal issue for her (as it was for Kathy Keller).

“Nevertheless, that desire for knowledge is set within boundaries that will make a woman’s learning, and the outworking of that learning, most meaningful to her, most edifying to the kingdom, and above all most God-glorifying in the overall schema of the Father’s plan.”

She mentions that Scripture doesn’t give us a gender-based list, which my own denomination’s study committee should probably keep in mind. Or more likely those of us who vote on that report- we want lists. We want certainty. We want our list affirmed by golly. The Scripture is focused more on functions, she says, not the position you hold. The general guidelines of Scripture are applicable to every generation of women. But women live in a variety of contexts that may place other boundaries on them either legitimately or illegitimately.

Women may be gifted teachers and communicators. They should use those gifts. They are to exercise those gifts publicly (and privately) in ministry to children and less mature women. That is clear from Proverbs and Titus 2. What is clear, to me, is that they should not hold the office of elder. What is not as clear is the question of a Christian conference or mixed SS class or small group. Joni, Elizabeth Elliot and other conservative women have spoken to mixed audiences at conferences. There will be some differences of opinion on that question. Many of these options didn’t exist in the early church (no SS, no conferences).

“A wise woman would rather give up an opportunity to show and use her giftedness if by using that giftedness she would risk bringing dishonor to God’s Word and thus to him.”

She starts with first principles: creation. She affirms male headship of home and church. 1 Timothy 2 is, she admits, a hard word for women. Scripture does present us with a number of women who were gifted and used by God in various ways. They walked in obedience to Him. We don’t see them walking in disobedience and expecting God to use them greatly. We see this among many women in church history. Each woman, I agree, is responsible to use her gifts within biblical boundaries. But she is not alone to figure that out, but there is ecclesiastical authority (which may err in either direction) to help her. We need wisdom from the Spirit, as Paul prayed for in Colossians.

“The Bible gives basic principles, but it does not speak in specific detail to thousands of real-life situations and choices that come before a woman.”

We must all recognize our personal defaults in distorting the Scriptures. Some of us tend to be more restrictive, and others of us more prone to push the boundaries out. We are wise to recognize the role of our own prejudices and presuppositions in interpreting and applying the Scriptures.

There is a confusing paragraph in the middle of page 157. She’s wanting, rightfully, to encourage obedience. But ….

“Therefore, I am capable of understanding God’s revelation and of choosing how I will respond to him. I am dependent on God, but I have a choice as to how I will relate to him- whether in obedience or disobedience. If I choose obedience, I am forgiven and become his by adoption. “

Not the clearest gathering of sentences, and the order lends us to confusion.

1 Timothy 2 is not about a woman’s relative intelligence or giftedness. It is not about her cultural circumstances. It is about how God designed men and women to function in society. Men and women are equal in dignity and value. They are different and complementary to one another for the purpose of God’s mission. Access to God through Christ and our spiritual privileges are the same (Gal. 3:28). This does not eliminate additional biblical instruction on church officers. Women do share their faith with both sexes (the Samaritan woman for instance), and could prophesy (Philip the Evangelist’s daughters). So they can do more than some churches permit, but less than others permit.

Where she lands is applying the prohibitions to “the teaching of men by a woman and to a woman’s exercising authority over men.” The important thing is “in the church”. This doesn’t mean that a woman can’t teach men math, science, history, or even theology. The context is church order, not social order. This seems to be the point she keeps returning to, and the point with which I leave you.

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After considering the idea of justice, Tim Keller moves to the topic of Justice and the Old Testament in his 2nd chapter of Generous Justice.  This chapter is about how to interpret the Old Testament law with justice as the example.  I think that best summarizes it.  Keller does this to answer the question of whether or not the laws of the Old Testament are binding on Christians today.

This is a thorny issue, and your answer reflects your method of interpretation.  Dispensationalists, Covenant, and New Covenant theology answer this question differently.  Keller comes from a Covenant Theology perspective.  He recognizes the differences between moral, ceremonial and case/civil law in the Old Testament.  The New Testament is pretty clear that Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial law in a way that means it is not binding on us any more.  We are ceremonially clean in Christ, and He is our Sacrifice which brings pardon and fellowship.

“So the coming of Christ changes the way in which Christians exhibit their holiness and offer their sacrifices, yet the basic principles remain valid.”

Keller brings a concept from Craig Bloomberg into the mix.  “Every command reflects principles at some level that are binding on Christians.”  So, Christians need to be ceremonially clean, have a sacrifice for sin etc.  The Christian looks to Christ for all this and more, however.  The need still exists, but the reality is in Christ.  Romans 12 teaches us that additionally we offer our whole lives in view of this great mercy.  We offer the sacrifice of praise (Hebrews), not the blood of animals or food offerings.

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IMarrow of Modern Divinity  -     By: Edward Fisher
recently wrote a post on Gospel Pardon as part of my interaction with Edward Fisher’s The Marrow of Modern Divinity.  That book is about the errors of both legalism and antinomianism.  In that post I mentioned Andrew Farley’s The Naked Gospel which I had read and reviewed earlier this year ( Part 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 with increasing frustration).  He has what I consider to be extreme views based on a hyper-dispensationalistic hermeneutic.  We engaged in an on-line discussion where it became increasingly clear to me that we were talking past each other as a result of our very different approaches to interpreting Scripture.

While I thought I was ending communication he left one last ginormous comment.  So, I’ll use that comment to have one last installment of our discussion.  If you have questions about the relationship of the OT and NT, law and gospel, and what really is the rule of life for Christians you may find some interesting points made here.  Then again ….

Thanks for this! It’s been fun to dialogue. The ideas you are presenting are familiar to me, but it has been good practice for me to think about which Scriptures to share. In this post, I will clarify that:

1. the New Covenant was put into effect at Jesus’ death (Hebrews 9:16-17)

This is not at issue at all.  What is at issue is the relationship between the Old Covenant and New Covenant.  Both the Old and New Covenants were manifestations of the Covenant of Grace (Live & Do This).  As we will note later, some treated the Old Covenant as if it was the Covenant of Works (Do this & live).  As John Piper notes, “The flesh turns the law into a ladder.”  As people born in Adam (Romans 5), we are under the covenant of works.  As a result the Law works death in us since we are sinners.  But even the Mosaic covenant was given to redeemed people.  It was not given for them to earn life, but to manifest life.  All who believe in the promises of God (keeping in mind the progressive nature of revelation, we know more than Abraham) are under the Covenant of Grace.  This why Hebrews 4:2 says they (the wilderness generation) had the gospel preached to them.  The gospel is not only in the New Covenant.  In fact, Paul often uses OT figures to explain the truth of the gospel.  For instance, Paul quotes Ps. 32 about the bliss of forgiveness/justification in Romans 4.  You’ll note it is not tied to the sacrificial system but his confession of sin as the instrumental means (this after David had been a believer for years- gospel pardon!)

The Old and New Covenants are not identical though.  There was real progress, and the issue in Hebrews was a temptation to leave the newer, better covenant for the Old Covenant, which at that point in the history of redemption (and now) amounts to apostasy.

2. Jesus was born under Law (Galatians 4:4) and his audience was too (Galatians 4:4) and Jesus expanded on the Law (Matthew 5:21-48).

Yes, Jesus redeems all those under the Law as a Covenant of Works.  He does this in 2 ways.  First, he perfectly fulfilled the law as our Substitute.  Second, he suffered the curse of the law as our Substitute (Galatians 3).

3. The Lord’s Prayer teaches a conditional forgiveness (“as we forgive others”) while in contrast Colossians 3:13 and Ephesians 4:32 teach the opposite (unconditional forgiveness) after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

I’m not so sure it teaches conditional forgiveness.  But if it did … think about who is teaching this.  Am I to disregard anything the Eternal Son of God in flesh teaches?  In your hermaneutic, yes.  In a biblical one?  No.  We find no basis for this, unless we do violence to 2 Timothy 3 as you have done by neglecting ALL that Paul says the law is useful for.

In fact, the Great Commission (given AFTER his death & resurrection!!) includes the instruction to “teach them to obey EVERYTHING I have commanded you.”  That would seem to include how to pray from earlier in that same gospel.

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One of the books I picked up at the PCA General Assembly was The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens and the Bible by James Hoffmeier, currently a prof of OT and Biblical Archeology at Trinity.

His own history is interesting.  He grew up in Egypt, the son of missionaries.  When Egypt went to war with Israel, their visa was revoked and the left Egypt with only suitcases never to return (he did return as an adult, but they lost nearly all their possessions).  They spent 2 weeks in a refugee camp on Cyprus.  He has lived in other countries, as a legal immigrant.

On the basis of his background, I’m very interested in how he develops the material.  He notes the release of Christians on the Border by M. Daniel Carroll just as he was finishing this book.  While not a response to Carroll’s book, he does mention a few points of departure in their approach.

In terms of the Christian community there are 2 main camps- the Sanctuary camp, and the Law and Order Camp.  These are the camps you see in my (altogether too brief) interview on a local news station.  The female pastor (?) of a PC (USA) supported the PC (USA) boycott and was offering their church as a sanctuary.  She reported anecdotal evidence of racial profiling- which is odd since at the time SB 1070 had yet to become law.  It was not being enforced.  She didn’t seem able to distinguish between a law and unjust enforcement of the law.

What is interesting is that groups like the Sojourners fear the Religious Right.  Apparently they aren’t afraid to use the Bible in politics, just not when Conservatives try to use it.

“Typically those who want to apply biblical law to the western culture do so selectively, accepting laws they personally feel comfortable with and rejecting those that create unease.”

Often both sides use the Scriptures improperly.  Hoffmeier address hermeneutical issues in the first chapter.  He lays out 4 primary approaches to understanding and applying the Scriptures to this (or any) political issue.

Looking for the literal correlations between past and present.  It is very common among Conservatives, but was also practiced by the “Sanctuary” proponents as well.  This view fails to understand the original historical and cultural context, and does not make adequate epochal adjustments.

Applying the biblical demand for justice to the current laws.  This was used by Martin Luther King Jr..  He rightly called for the laws to be applied fairly to blacks as well as whites.  It requires just laws in the first place.  That seems to be one of the missing pieces in this puzzle.

Examine the legal material to develop the theological or ethical principle there to shape or critique modern laws.  Walter Kaiser takes this approach.

Establish a biblical worldview as a way to evaluate contemporary social and legal issues.  This approach, used by Christopher Wright, takes the theological, social and economic context of Scripture into consideration to “preserve the objective” while changing for the context of any culture or time.  This is the approach that the author will use.

When discussing this issue with other Christians who differ, it is important to understand how they are using the Bible in making their arguments.  This is just as important as their views.

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I’ve reviewed some specific sections and issues from Andrew Farley’s The Naked Gospel.  He wrote the book in order to relieve people from the bondage of legalism which can come from misunderstanding the gospel.  That is a great thing.  But Farley seems to misunderstand the gospel in a different way.

He begins the book by inviting theological discussion.  Theological disputation is an important thing, but it must be done properly.  Where Farley, and his book,  ultimately fails is how he pursues theological disputation.

His book is filled with exegetical and hermeneutical errors.  Texts are often taken out of context.  His method of interpretation is profoundly flawed. He ignores texts that may have something to say about his points.  When talking about how we won’t stand before God at the Great White Throne, he tosses out Matthew 25 due the fact that it took place before the Cross.  Nor does he refer to Romans 14:9-12.

9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.  10 You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.  11 It is written: ”‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’”  12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

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Part 3 of The Naked Gospel by Andrew Farley is called Crossing the Line.  I thought he’d cross it, and he did.  The section is essentially on his hermeneutic (or method of interpretation).  He crossed the line into what I think is a very bad place.

The matter of interpretive method is very important.  Most false teaching arises from a faulty method of interpretation.  It is Farley’s faulty method of interpretation that gives birth to the various errors in his teaching (and the strange theories he foists upon us to float some of them).

By now you are probably thinking- “get to it already”.  If you are, this is how I often feel when I listen to Glen Beck.  He also has some hermeneutical issues when it comes to theology, but I digress even further.

Farley embraces a view I have only found among hyper-dispensationalists (I’m not saying he’s a hyper-dispensationalist, just that his hermeneutic is very similar).  It is that the new covenant did not come into effect until the cross & resurrection, so (and this is the odd part) the gospels are not part of the New Testament proper.  They are written to Jews, not Christians, so Jesus’ words there are not binding upon us in any way.  The Old Testament is instructive to understand our sinfulness and how God would eventually save sinners.  But the Old Testament is not to be used as a guide for life in any way, shape or form.  We find “a thorough background in how God initiated a relationship with humankind and how we did whatever we could to ruin this relationship.”

In my previous post I forgot to interact with his material on 2 Timothy 3.  But it fits in here very well.  He quotes 2 Timothy 3:16-17, but I’ll put a few more verses in there for context.

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it,  15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,  17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  (NIV)

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A recent theology exam included questions about the teolology and methodology of the Apostles’ use of the Old Testament in the New Testament.  The candidate agreed with their Christological  goal, but had some criticisms for their methodology.  This issue is part of the controversy over Peter Enns’ book Inspiration and Incarnation.  His srgument in the book created quite the stir, resulting in his leaving Westminster Theological Seminary.  Enns and Bruce Waltke state their respective cases on the matter in the lastest issue of WTJ.

Good for us, Dr. Roger Nicole’s 1958 article New Testament Use of the Old Testament is now available online.  He addresses the range, authority and accuracy of the New Testament usage of the Old Testament. Dr. Nicole helps us to understand that we should not hold the New Testament authors to the standards of a doctrinal thesis.

Personally, I’m uncomfortable with criticism of how the Apostles used the Old Testament.  That is because I affirm the dual authorship of Scripture.  It is divinely inspired (2 Timothy 3:16), and God used real people in a way that they wrote in accordance with their personality, culture and circumstances.    This means that one cannot criticize the human authors without also criticizing the Spirit of Christ who inspired them.  That same Spirit inspired the original OT Scriptures which had an original meaning and a greater fulfillment in Christ.  The OT, in addition to having an original meaning, often has a typological function.  This explains why some verses seem to be taken out of context.

But who cares what the Cavman thinks- read Dr. Nicole!

HT: Between Two Worlds

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I’ll be preaching some of the parables in Luke to illustrate grace in the coming weeks.  Here are the resources I will be using:

  • The Parables: Understanding the Stories Jesus Told by Simon Kistemaker.  Dr. K arrived at the Orlando campus after my graduation.  So, I never had him for a course.  But this should be good.
  • The Parables of the Kingdom by Robert Farrar Capon.
  • The Parables of Grace by Robert Farrar Capon.
  • Turning Your World Upside Down: Kingdom Priorities in the Parables of Jesus by Richard Phillips.  I can’t remember when I got this- I think it was like 75% off but looked interesting.  Finally, I get to use it.

Some resources I wish I had:

Hmmm.  Kind of lacking, don’t you think.  I thought there would be more books on the parables.

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Non-sermon related reading has fallen off the grid the last few months.  I feel like I’ve been reading this book for the better part of 6 months.  Not quite, but I have finally finished Graeme Goldsworthy’s Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation.  I already reviewed the first 2 sections which dealt with the basics of interpretation and his argument for a gospel-centered hermeneutic, and how various methods of Bible interpretation have eclipsed the gospel throughout church history.

The final section, Reconstructing Evangelical Hermeneutics, was the most difficult for me to read.  At times he covered areas of philosophy with which I was unfamilar.  So, I was occasionally thinking ‘huh?” (particularly speech-act theory).  But it was still profitable at times, just not as profitable as the previous 2 sections.

Among the areas that were helpful were his discussion of typology, and Dr. John Currid’s criteria for true typology.  This criteria is affirmed by Keller & Clowney in the DMin course available through RTS on I-Tunes.  He was also helpful in discussion contexting (his simpler term for contextualization).  The missionary mandate, as he argues, mandates this.  He also includes a chapter on the interaction and relationship between biblical and systematic theology.  He talks a great deal about how both Calvin and Luther viewed Bible interpretation, and the role of the Spirit (particularly Calvin on this front)

His Epilogue contains a few good quotes to sum all this up:

Hermeneutics is about reading God’s word with understanding so taht we might be conformed more and more to the image of Christ.

The purpose of God’s word is to bring us to God through the salvation that is in Christ.  It does this by revealing his plan and purpose, by conforming us more and more to the image of Christ, and by providing the shape of the presence of God with his people through the Spirit of Christ.

So, pastors and those who regularly teach God’s people should find Goldsworthy’s book helpful as we seek to fulfill our calling.  As the ancient children’s song says, “take up and read.”

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The second section of Graeme Goldworthy’s book Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics focuses on Challenges to Evangelical Hermeneutics.  In this section he is essentially tracing the history of biblical interpretation with an eye to the way the gospel has been eclipsed in various times and methods.

This is no easy matter to accomplish since we are talking 2,000 years here.  Some of the issues involved are very heady (intellectual) as well.  As a result, some things may have gotten generalized or flatted.  But, who wants to read a 900 page on hermeneutics (okay, there are 3 of you out there).  It was adapted from his class on the subject, so summarization is a key thing to keep in mind.

The early church wrestled with allegory and typology.  There are proper, and improper, ways to deal with them.  Many a heresy has been developed through the use of allegory.  What he says here is helpful:

  • While typology looked for historical patterns in the Old Testament to which Christ corresponded, allegory was based on the accidental similarities in language and concepts.
  • Typology was dependent on the historical interpretation, while allegory was not.

While discussing the medieval church, he mentions Peter Lombard whose interpretative method sounds very similar to that used by many dispensationalists today “The promises in the two Testaments also differ in that those of the Old Testament are earthly and those of the New Testament are heavenly.”   Goldsworthy also traces Aquinas’ grace-nature dualism which became the standard Roman Catholic hermeneutic after the Reformation.  It is semi-pelagian at best.

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Hermeneutics is one of those words that people shut down upon hearing.  It is just the science of interpretation.

Here are some of the best books I’ve read about how to interpret the Bible:

  • Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation by Graeme Goldsworthy.  I’m just about done with Part 2 of the book.  The second section is very technical.  But the book is great in explaining why and how we are to look at every text through the lens of the gospel.
  • He Gave Us Stories by Richard Pratt.  One of my seminary professors wrote this, and made us read it.  It was great.  It takes a literary approach that balances author, text and audience.  Too bad more people haven’t read this- it is great.  I still utilize his approach.
  • Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul.  Another of my professors wrote this laymen’s guide to interpreting Scripture.  In typical Sproul style, he’s able to put the cookies on the counter for all to enjoy.  Not long either, so it’s manageable for a SS class.
  • Paying by the Rules by Robert Stein is similar to Sproul’s book in that it is geared for lay people, not scholars.  I don’t agree with everything he says, but it is a very good book.  Also easily adaptable to SS.
  • God-Centered Biblicial Interpretation by Vern Poythress.  Not for the intellectually queasy.  It is a great book, but slow reading to digest what he’s saying.  It is not overly technical, but some of the subject matter is quite heady.  He does a good job addressing our subjectivism in approaching Scripture such that he opens us up to the fuller meaning of the text.

Here are some titles I might read some day:

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I started to see this book pop up on people’s blogs a few years ago.  The title, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation by Graeme Goldsworthy, intrigued me.  So, using a gift certificate, I bought the book.  Recently, excited to begin reading, a friend wondered aloud why we need to read another book on hermeneutics.

I’m glad I didn’t listen.  I have not yet finished the book, but I’ve found it quite stimulating, understandable and grappling with an important topic: how should we, as evangelical Christians, interpret the Scriptures?

Here we will cover Part 1 of the book: Evangelical Prolegomena to Hermeneutics.   Goldsworthy introduces the idea of presuppositions into the question of hermeneutics: will we assume the supreme authority of God or assume human autonomy?  This is the question upon which so much hinges in biblical interpretation.  Our assumptions or presuppositions, in addition to this one, greatly affect the effectiveness of our attempts to understand, explain and apply the text of Scripture.

“The function of hermeneutics could be stated as the attempt to bridge the gap between the text inside its world and the readers/hearers inside their world.”

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One of the key passages in the discussion over women deacons is 1 Timothy 3:11.  For many people, this clearly shows that women are not to be deacons.  The Greek in this sentence is very interesting, and as a result, many translations necessarily interpret it.  The question is, do they interpret it correctly?

11 In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. (NIV)

11 Likewise, their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things.  (NKJV)

11 In the same way, their wives must be respected and must not speak evil of others. They must exercise self-control and be faithful in everything they do. (NLT)

11 In the same way, women must be respected by others. They must not speak evil of others. They must be self-controlled and trustworthy in everything. (NCV)

Many of these translations include a footnote indicating that the Greek word “guna” can mean either woman or wife depending on the context.  I can’t get the Greek text in here so it is legible, so forgive me.  Here are the problems:

  • There is no subject for this sentence.  It is assumed (as in verse 8).
  • There is no verb for this sentence.  It, too, is assumed (as in verse 8).
  • The word for women/wives is in the accusative, indicating that it is the direct object.  It is first in the sentence to put stress, or emphasis, on it.  Though “in the same way” something very different is being said than in verse 8.  It has to do with women.  Deacon/servant in verse 8 is also in the accusative.
  • There is no possessive pronoun, which would clearly indicate that it means “wives” rather than “women.”  Most translations add this (“their”) to the text.
  • The rest of the sentence is largely made up of adjectives modifying women/wives.

So, the sentence reads like this:  “In the same way [or likewise] (assumed subject & verb) honorable women/wives, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all (things).”

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I received my latest order from WTS Books today.  It has been some time between orders.  First, I had to wait until I got over $50 due to referrals.  Then I waited until the first book listed was available.  Finally, new stuff to read.

  • The Prodigal God by Tim Keller.  I should start this one this weekend, and hope to have a review shortly.  Very much looking forward to this book.
  • Love Walked Among Us by Paul Miller.  Paul is the son of Jack Miller, and wrote the early edition of Transforming Grace.  His ministry, See Jesus, has some curriculum to consider like the Person of Jesus (based on this book) and Prayer Life.  I look forward to using them in my next church position.
  • Man Overboard! by Sinclair Ferguson.  This is his short commentary on Jonah which was not available in this country until recently.  Rejoice!  Now I’m ready to preach on Jonah.
  • Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges.  Been afraid to read this one 🙂  I know many of my sins are “respectable” but sin none the less.  There is also a Study Guide available which means it might be a great study for groups.
  • Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics by Graeme Goldsworthy.  I’ve been wanting to read this for some time.  I’ve enjoyed and been challenged by some other stuff he’s written.  It will be interesting to see how he approaches this, and if it fits well with the triperspective approach (Christ’s work for us, in us & thru us) that I’ve been using.

I’ve got a good patch of reading ahead of me!

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